It took me a long time to get to a second screening of this film, but I felt it was needed for me… and it was.
The basic problem I have with this version of the story is that it tries to add more nuance than the story from the book can comfortably absorb.
I haven’t read the book, but I did see the earlier filmed version of the material, and that and this film both point pretty clearly to this being a pot boiler of high style and fairly simple ideas. One reason that I think Noomi Rapace’s version of the title character was so intensely embraced was that she didn’t flinch much. She remained a puzzle. And the filmmaker didn’t try to crack the code. Here, Steve Zaillian, adapting the book, is trying to bring us closer. But it’s almost as though for that to work, Fincher had to put his harshness petal to the metal… and that didn’t really happen. Perhaps the single most disturbing image of the film is the murder of a cat, which has been chopped up in some very specific ways.
For instance… I didn’t feel much of a parallel between Mikael being strung up for murder and Lisbeth being tied to the bed for anal rape when watching the first movie. I felt much more intensity from both acts in watching the Niels Arden Oplev version. There are multiple reasons for this, I think, The others I will get into outside of this Spoiler. But one is that Fincher’s visual style now makes the two events more strikingly similar and yet, more sterile. What is the meaning of the reflective events? In one case, Lisbeth has no help on the way and her only option is revenge. In the other, Mikael is saved by Lisbeth. In the former case, Lisbeth doesn’t expect to die. In the latter, Mikael should.
It seems to me that the screenwriter and director of the newer film understood intuitively that there was a connection between these two events. My problem is that after seeing it twice, I don’t know, emotionally, what that connection is.
Another problem for me in this version was Daniel Craig. His performance is excellent. But he’s Daniel Craig and we never forget it. Besides the fact that his Mikael is a much more dominant character in this version of the material, he is also a movie star. And when his life is threatened, I am not fearful, in terms of storytelling, that he is really in harm’s way. And there is a moment in which we are really meant to feel like he could die. I didn’t. Not for a second.
Likewise, Rooney Mara is a very interesting canvas for Fincher. But naked Rooney Mara becomes more like a Playboy photo spread than a connected experience of a character. I’m not sure how that could have been better. Perhaps hiring an unknown who was really unknown. But I have to say, I know Noomi Rapace was very physically exposed in her performance, but lovely as she is, I don’t remember specific shots of her nudity from that film. In this one, I remember very distinctly feeling like Fincher was cutting within a few frames of labia or somewhat fetishizing Mara’s nudity.
For me, one key moment is when Lisbeth is anally raped. We never see her face clearly. To me, watching Rooney Mara’s lovely lithe ass flipping about in the air and she grunts through a gagged mouth is like soft-core kink. Her pain, methinks, would be shown in her eyes. Is she resolved to get through it? Does she really think she can break free (another reflection of what is to come with Mikael being strung up to die)? Has this happened before and is it putting her in an place we, as an audience, have never seen her before? To me, a violation like that is defined, dramatically, by the person’s reaction. The terror of someone about to be shot and thrown in a mass grave is far greater than seeing a corpse thrown in a mass grave. The death part is the same. But only the living can be terrified.
I find Ms. Mara’s performance very hard to judge. The script and direction give us a lot of glimpses past Lisbeth’s hardness. But while I found myself wanting to scream at the writer who suggested that Lisbeth, in this film, is a victim of Hollywood’s sense of movie patriarchy, I saw pretty clearly why this writer was upset when I saw the film a second time around. Lisbeth’s sexuality in this film is all over the place and quickly flips from rape victim to lesbian to sex toy to a middle-aged man, the last of which never quite fits.
I don’t know what Zaillian and Fincher think her sexual motives with the Mikael character are here. But they aren’t clear. This isn’t a “I take what I want” girl, no matter what she says. Even when she takes home a woman for, presumably, pleasurable sex, she seems to have gone out looking for a comfort fuck, not anything remotely fun or intimate. She specifically notes that Mikael doesn’t perform cunnilingus on his girlfriend enough… but instead of training him to make her come, she rides him – without him making any kind of move on her – like a fairly traditional male fantasy of “if you harden it, she will come.”
Thing is, I don’t think that Lisbeth yearning for something that Mikael might give her is ridiculous. But it’s not really in the movie. The Swedish movie is boiler plate. Lisbeth is kind of a caricature. But here, made more human, she doesn’t have enough depth to feel completely real. How much of that is Mara Rooney and how much of that is the intent of the filmmakers? The attempt seems to be Edward Scissorhands as Lisbeth Salander. But unlike Edward, Lisbeth can remove her sharp edges. And she does. And it never quite feels right or fulfilled. It’s not that it couldn’t have been. It’s not that the filmmakers aren’t completely capable of doing amazing things. It is, I think, that they are stuck with the book and the end that would have felt right, I think here, is where she goes in the second book… where, I am told, she goes off to heal. Instead, this film stops with her in a kind of Han Solo stasis… which is not dramatically satisfying, especially after we have felt her changing so much. There is a reason why Han is “frozen” after the second film and not at the end of the first. You can’t cliffhanger like that if you don’t know whether you have fully captured the heart of the audience.
The other thing is, we know, as an audience, that Mikael isn’t a man who could make her happy. He is too weak. He’s cool and smart and principled. But not unlike James Bond, he’s somewhat unknowable and he and we like it like that. If she is ever going to be fully honest with a man or woman, she needs someone who can be the same in return. So we don’t have a big investment in a relationship potentially blooming either. And again, as long as everyone is a cipher and this is a murder mystery with some cool characters, that’s fine. When you ramp it up with Fincher and Zaillian, all of a sudden, it’s all out of alignment.
So I guess that’s my review in a nutshell. Beautifully made. Acting is strong across the board. But making pulp into something more real is very, very hard. It’s a magic trick, not a straight-forward skill. And failure, even by the best, at achieving that, is more likely than not.
I don’t think TGWTDG is a failure. I still think it works as an entertainment. But I wanted more than I had gotten from the very compelling, but very TV film by Niels Arden Oplev. And I got a little less.
So… “The 10% Principle” worked on the smaller films… not so much on the bigger ones,in this case, M:I4 and Holmes2. Those two ran between 35% and 40% off of Monday’s number all week. What does it mean? (shrug) People didn’t stay as excited about them as they did for Avatar or the first Holmes movie.
Trying to do box office analysis in the situation of a holiday and shifting days of the week connected to holidays and so forth is a bit maddening. So I’m not going to kill myself today with it. But I did think about perspective and that led me to last year’s numbers. These are the Top Ten numbers at the end of the holiday weekend of New Year’s 2010 into 2011.
Little Fockers – 103.1
True Grit Par – 86.7
Tron: Legacy – 131
Yogi Bear – 65.7
Narnia: Dawn Trader – 87
The Fighter – 46.4
Tangled – 167.9
Gulliver’s Travels – 27.1
Black Swan – 47.3
The King’s Speech – 22.7
Note that this year’s holiday movies still have 3 more days of holiday in which to add to their coffers.
Mission and Sherlock surely surpass Fockers and Tron. Chipmunks kicks Yogi’s butt. There is no True Grit in this year’s group, with Dragon Tattoo running about 30% behind it. Tangled clearly held much better than any November movie this year. Titnin won’t end the year with Narnia numbers given very different release dates, but in the end, they could well be fairly close. Zoo should be at Fighter/Black Swan numbers by Tuesday and War Horse will be pretty close… even though last year’s two films had a big head start.
Overall, I’d say this December is looking a lot like Last December. No big break-out. Last year, two sequels and two remakes were on top at this time. This year, it’s 3 sequels and 1 remake. The only animals last yer were animated or medicated. This year, we have animated, medicated, owned, and miraculous. But last year did have surprise on its side. People were genuinely surprised by how well True Grit did, as well as Black Swan and The Fighter. This year, even the underdogs are overdogs, whether they were directed by Spielberg, Scorsese, Crowe, or Fincher.
The e-mail below arrived today from Patrick Graham with the Subject Line, “An Open Letter – Clarification of Rules Violations.” Publishing it does not mean that I agree with it 100%. But I agree with more than 80% of the detail and 100% of the spirit of Patrick’s inquiry, which I made myself with Ric Robertson and Leslie Unger back in October. They took a loose and undefined position that the event was within the rules. Multiple sources have confirmed that the event was vetted personally by Academy President Tom Sherak and that he helped define the structure that would allow it to proceed without overtly breaking Academy rules.
I still feel, as Patrick does, that the event violated the marketing rules and even more clearly, the spirit of the rules. And one of the creators of the event confirmed that last year this event would have clearly been “illegal” under Academy rules.
I’ll wait until some other time to get into how unsuccessful the event was at keeping an audience after the panel on Saturday and all day on Sunday and how, after touting the exclusivity and “sold out” nature of the event, Finke & Co had to reach out to other guilds the week before the event to pad attendance. Not the point. Patrick has the floor…
I’ve sat on the sideline for too long on these matters – the Deadline Contenders event is by all accounts WAY beyond the pale of the intended rules set out by the Academy!
This is a screen shot of this morning’s front page.
How does this exact sentence not violate the Academy’s long held line against direct marketing to your members?!?
“….invited members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and select Hollywood Guilds.” – Nikki Finke
How is this not direct marketing?
– AMPAS members and select others?
– AMPAS members specifically and an unlisted group known as ‘Hollywood Guilds’?
– How is it within the spirit of the rules to specifically invite AMPAS members NOT as it relates to the larger entertainment community?
Forgive me, but I thought ANY specific segregation of your members as it relates to ANYTHING was a violation of your lengthy and somewhat specific rules.
Below the Line, as it approaches its first decade in June 2012, has lived by the written rules and the very spirit of what the Academy deemed inappropriate as to direct advertising including what we believed Variety and for the most part The Hollywood Reporter (in its prior incarnation) followed –
– Using the word ‘Advertising’ on covers that a studio bought out
– Always respecting the ‘AMPAS’ logo any time we use an image of the statue
– NEVER using an image of the statue UNLESS reporting on something directly related to the awards or the institution
– NEVER directly soliciting to members of the Academy for screenings, receptions, special events
– ALWAYS including ALL other guilds, societies and unions in anything we do for the larger craft community
– NEVER offering free subscriptions to AMPAS members
– NEVER inviting the entire AMPAS membership to sign up to our (almost decade old) screening series nor BTLNews.com
For years we’ve sat on the sideline watching minor infractions come and go with little or no repercussions.
This issue with Deadline is so outrageous, I think it sends a very clear message to publishers (online and print) and studios – everything is fair.
As long as there is no ‘fee’ it’s all ‘okay’ – really – does any person at the Academy really believe Deadline is NOT getting compensation for a two day event that blatantly puts your members in a room to be pitched (while being fed) by all the major studios?
From our start, Below the Line has fostered and maintained a VERY warm and respectful relationship with the Academy – probably because we fit a need the Academy wasn’t fully able to – we celebrate the crew – that’s it. Day in, day out, our writers interview the incredibly hard working and talented below-the-line men and women, union and non-union that are the absolute backbone of our industry. Without whom, nothing would be shot, lit, designed, dressed, fed, transported, painted or posted.
Through tough times and fat years, we have survived to serve one purpose – to be The Voice of the Crew.
Not one award season passes without a studio, marketing firm, publicist or awards consultant asking us to ‘bend’, ‘skirt’ or out and out ‘break’ your rules. To our credit and to some extent out of fear, we’ve always come back to the spirit of your rules and said ‘no’.
Please, I need clarification from the Academy on this matter.
And, I have a suggestion: Going forward, on a voluntary basis, designate someone at the Academy to be the Marketing / Rule Compliance Authority (I know how you guys like acronyms – MRCA has a nice ring to it).
If I as publisher of Below the Line want to put on an event like the Deadline shindig, AND, if I felt so compelled to get the Academy’s stamp of approval, I could go to MRCA and ask them to, well, literally, give me a little stamp / logo – ‘Academy Approved’ or Academy Sanctioned or Academy Rules Verified or some such verbiage.
This would accomplish a couple things:
– Create comfort to studios and marketers alike that their event, lunch, screening, etc. is ‘okay’ in the eyes of the rules committee.
– Give reasonable cover to all interested parties related to the awards season.
IN ADDITION to that, please list and or report infractions – it’s one thing to say no, but it’s a far greater thing to show how you dealt with the infraction to the larger community.
Below the Line’s commitment to the Academy and it’s ideals remain unchanged. As a long time participant, promoter and, at times, partner with the Academy, I feel there needs to be some level of transparent accountability on these matters.
Doing a Top 10 list is a hard process for me every year. This year, I have decided to take you through my steps in deciding. It doesn’t mean, I don’t think, that anyone will like or dislike the resulting list any more this year. But I thought it might be interesting. (Not everyone will agree on that either.)
135 movies made at least $10 million dollars this year. Another 5 or so that are under that figure will pop past that figure in the weeks to come.
If that group, I picked 16 that I think I would consider for my Top Ten list at year’s end. Of course, not all things are equal and some of these have a more realistic shot than others. Not being on the list doesn’t mean I hated or even disliked a movie. Films like The Help and Transformers 3 sprint to mind. I just don’t have that extra feeling about them that might inspire me to include them in a short list. And if I have 16 year, I am guessing that I will have more than 30 picks from the Under $10m gross group.
In order of box office gross…
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Captain America: The First Avenger
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
The Adventures of Tintin
The Tree of Life
Win Win STILL UNDER $!)M, BUT SURE TO GET THERE
Of this group, there are 9 titles that I think will get into my 20 and have a legitimate shot at my 10.
The Tree of Life
Of this list, I feel compelled to put Moneyball, Warrior, and The Artist in the DVD player for another look. I’ve seen 2 of the 3 movies at least twice already. But I want fresher eyes. And to be honest, if I were just going to revisit some of these films for pleasure at this point, I would throw in Young Adult, Contagion, and the last 40 minutes of Hugo. And for the record, I’ve seen Drive 3 times, Tree of Life 4 times, and don’t really want to watch War Horse on a TV until I’ve seen it in a theater again.
Also worth noting… I would be perfectly happy to go to the movies to see Ghost Protocol again this week. I have really enjoyed watching some of Tintin on DVD with my son… in it’s own context, it is a truly beautiful artwork. And I really want to see Dragon Tattoo again. I don’t think it will leap into my 10 list, but I don’t feel like I am completely comfortable with how it sits in my head after one viewing and I feel like it deserves another look without the weight of Oscar season hanging over it.
Every now and again, I spend some time at Best Buy. And while the odds of me making purchases at the store have been reduced to almost nothing – “Ding Dong! It’s UPS with your Amazon purchase!” – I still find the marketing efforts of the Best Buy team to be quite illuminating about where we are in the retail universe as regards filmed entertainment. After about 90 minutes wandering around today, I found…
3D TV is not close to being a significant medium – There were four 3D TVs set up amongst the 150 or so HDTV sets on the floor. The primary offering was a 3D trailer for The Smurfs. The very clever “glasses on a pole” became less clever when you realized you were sticking your face where other faces had been with no idea whether the glasses had been cleaned recently. But more importantly, only 2 of the 4 sets had impressive 3D images. And then, when the offering was “what’s on ESPN 3D?,” the answer was “nothing.” Instead there was a blurry, but not really 3D on any of the sets episode of NCIS. Here’s the news, gang. No one is buying one of these things to watch the Smurfs movie. Show me how great the NFL – live or saved – looks and then I might started considering spending 50% more for 3D.
Prices on HDTV have dropped in a serious way – Most of them are now LCD and LED… and almost everything under 60″ is under $1000. Over 50″ seems to rise in price significantly, but still all under $3000.
The big thing is internet-ready TV – Almost every featured TV was sporting a scroll about the various kinds of internet access that was available on the TV, from Netflix to Crackle and on and on. The smallest TVs and the largest were touting this option. And every accessory that makes the connection without a special TV was also on display. This movement has all the signs of a success… it’s cool… it adds value… and you don’t seem to be paying more for it.
DVD is over – And not just regular DVD… Blu-ray already needs to be looking over its shoulder. Pricing is all over the place. There are Blu-rays cheaper than conventional DVDs because the studios are now pushing for Ultraviolet-included product. But all the prices are getting lower and lower. And the shelf space is getting smaller and smaller. Walking into the Beat Buy I was at, CDs are in front, Blu-ray behind and DVD peeking out all over. Louis CK did a concert and put it on the web and if you wanted a DVD, you could burn one if you wanted. The idea and its results have all kinds of implications, but the one relevant here is the DVD burning one. Studios are already anticipating the moment when you never put a disc in a player again… and can watch a film you have paid for on any of your TVs, you tablets, your pads, and whatever new devices show up in the future.
Best Buy is not too long for this world – The idea of a brick and mortar retailer competing with internet and FedEx/UPS is near over. Places where you can touch stuff will exist and thrive, eventually selling stuff at web pricing, probably having it delivered 2-day or overnight with a openly stated 10% uptick in price (or more) for retail-level stocking costs. Best Buy is selling more coffee machines, taking up more floor space with appliances, and doing a lot of space that is branded by the manufacturer. The company may well evolve into a showroom for stuff that’s sold online. There will be a good model for that someday (that will likely involve fewer “salespeople” who are a LOT better trained and paid). But what the company was… really close to over.
I’m just going to attack the year in pieces, as the mood takes me.
Tonight, i am taken by a Los Angeles Times piece in which, after over a decade of me droning on about it, a major paper acknowledges the terribly significant issue of multiples. It’s not a bad piece, overall. But of course, the discussion of multiples, which have been in decline, by design of the studios, since the start of sell-thru VHS 22 years ago, is used to attack, yet again, this year’s box office… which is a bit asinine.
Regardless, since the LA Times deigned to touch upon a truth they may some day be willing to really deal with in depth, here are some details about this year… not just big overreaching numbers and a couple of convenient examples.
There were – so far – 12 wide releases that started as wide releases in 2012 that have done as much as 4x opening. They are…
So… please consider… what consistent theme is there amongst these 12 movies?
I can see one theme? They all did 4x opening or better.
There are movies for adults on here… probably 5 of them. 3 family films. 4 from independent studios. About half were hugely profitable… the other half, not so much.
One thing that is interesting is that aside from the two animated films, none of these titles cost over $100m – many a lot less – to make. So no superheroes. No big effects films.
If you’re interested, the leggiest superhero was Thor, which did 2.75.2x opening. Captain America did 2.72x opening. The two were almost identical twins at home, closing within $4.5 million of one another.
Wait… I probably should mention The Green Hornet, which did 2.95 opening.
I guess my point is… multiples and the studios’ interest in pushing for them IS an important issue.
It just doesn’t have shit-all to do with this year’s box office being down by $500 million or so.
I believe – and I don’t think this is a reach – studios could increase domestic grosses by 20% or more in less than a year by pushing the post-theatrical window back by to 8 months as the start of DVD sales and pay-tv/streaming windows back to a 14 months. They would also improve the DVD business, which they have done all but put on an ice flow to die at this point.
But as I keep writing, it’s not about studios trying to improve the theatrical box office, at least domestically, where it is taken for granted. The studios sacrificed at least 15% of theatrical on an average wide release film – probably more – to earlier DVD sales more than 7 years ago. It just wasn’t worth it to them to keep films in theaters if it might slow down the DVD bonanza.
And here is an ugly lesson about the film business… they don’t shift back unless something significant shifts them back. So to get the distributors to think about the upside of longer-legs seriously now, they would need to see a trend line happen without them lifting a finger. But that is, I am afraid, impossible, since the deck is stacked so much against theatrical after the third weekend.
And it’s not just the short window… it’s also the distribution and exhibition response to the short windows. We now live in a time where everyone who wants to see a movie on opening weekend can see that movie if they are willing to not go to the one or two primetime shows that sometimes sell out for a hot title. But that opportunity is, in part, based on accordion screen count. And often as early as the second weekend, that accordion closes. And by Weekend Four, the option of seeing Big Dumb Movie That Friends Told You Wasn’t That Bad is pretty narrow.
But when a studio does try to chase legs in this atmosphere, as Paramount did when they kept running Star Trek ads into weeks 3 and 4 a few years ago, they still ended up with 3.43x opening… in spite of a lot of rave reviews and older audiences with Trek nostalgia. Super 8, this summer, did 3.58x opening. Both did good numbers. But both couldn’t break out with 5x+ numbers. The infrastructure does not allow for it except in the rarest of cases. And as thrilled as DreamWorks and Universal were with The Help (6.5x) and Bridesmaids (6.4x) breaking through… neither of them had any real hopes of those kinds of multiples. They would have been giddy with the films hitting 4x, just cracking $100m.
I believe – still – that reviving second run cinema as a business would be good business for everyone. There is only one real bite of the theatrical apple, which will soon be the sweetest apple in the food chain again before long. People will be buying post-theatrical by subscription only before too long… and I think the studios know it. So how can an extra chunk of box office at $5 a ticket vs $10 for first -run (as an example) be bad if the end game revenues can truly be taken for granted? And how much wider would the basis of moviegoers be in this country if a quality $5 experience, 4 -5 weeks into a theatrical run of a wide release was available? Forget the mega-titles… how many people would give a movie like Contagion a look in a theater if they got to have that experience in a room full of people for a price that felt affordable?
Sometimes, thinking about how studios approach this issue is like listening – with all due respect to those of you who disagree with me politically – the Republicans going on about how an unfettered market would be good for the average American when 20 years of Bushes and Reagan have so clearly suggested otherwise. Perhaps the Democrats are too far on the other side of it at times. But if financial gain is the only thing leading, then most industry will tend to think narrowly, selfishly, and without daring.
I do think the studios can eventually kill theatrical. That is the story here. And if 2012 is an up year at the box office and maybe even with ticket sales (one of my least favorite dumb stats), that will still be a central story. Assigning blame – or praise – after a given year is just stupid. It’s bigger than any year (or any 2 quarters). It always is.
You can neither make beautiful, great movies without risk as you can make babies without sex. Risk is part of the artistic process. That’s why I like performance, because performance is walking a high wire.
~ Francis Coppola
“Probably the most heralded movie I’ve ever been in was Forrest Gump. While I was sitting on the park bench, I asked Bob, ‘Is anyone going to care about this guy?’ He said, ‘I don’t know Tom. It’s a mine field. It’s a fucking mine field.’ So when it works, you just say, ‘We dodged all the mines.'”
~ Tom Hanks